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### Cecilia Alali: A Tale of Inspiration from Gilman to Kenya

Cecilia Alali, a scholar from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, currently pursuing a major in public relations with a minor in sales at WKU, was one of the 22 WKU students chosen in October 2023 for the prestigious Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. This scholarship aims to increase the diversity of students studying or interning abroad by providing support to undergraduates facing financial constraints.

In the Fall 2023 cycle, all 22 students selected for the award were Pell Grant-eligible, with 68% being students of color, 55% first-generation college students, 9% students with disabilities, and 9% enrolled at one of WKU’s regional campuses. These exceptional students collectively received scholarships totaling \(77,500, with an average award amount of \)3,500.

For Cecilia, studying abroad had been a long-standing dream since high school. Initially unaware of the Gilman award during her time at her previous institution, she had envisioned pursuing study abroad opportunities post-graduation, potentially through the Fulbright program. However, a serendipitous encounter with WKU Forensics representatives during a national competition in 2022 led to her decision to transfer to WKU, altering her academic trajectory.

Despite her initial plans to stay at the University of Central Oklahoma throughout her undergraduate years, Cecilia’s journey took a different turn following her introduction to WKU. Her involvement in various activities, such as serving as a Talisman web writing editor and excelling in speech and debate, showcased her diverse skill set.

Transitioning to WKU, Cecilia’s engagement in forensics continued to be a priority, alongside her aspiration to join the Mahurin Honors College for a well-rounded academic experience. Attending the study abroad fair in fall 2023 reignited her desire to pursue international opportunities, leading her to discover the Gilman scholarship through the Office of Scholar Development (OSD).

With the guidance and support of OSD, particularly from individuals like Will, Cecilia navigated the rigorous Gilman application process within a tight timeframe. Despite the challenges posed by the short notice, her dedication to seeking assistance and refining her application underscored her commitment to academic and personal growth.

Looking ahead, Cecilia envisions a future dedicated to immigration policy, driven by her personal connection to her mother’s immigration journey. Her goal to advocate for non-American communities and streamline communication channels aligns with her desire to effect positive change in the lives of immigrants awaiting resolution of their legal status.

As she prepares for a potential study abroad experience in Kenya, Cecilia anticipates immersing herself in the local culture, drawing inspiration from her familial ties to the region. Beyond academic pursuits, she envisions reconnecting with her roots, exploring her family’s heritage, and embracing the enriching experiences that lie ahead.

Upon her return to WKU, Cecilia plans to pay it forward by supporting and mentoring fellow WKU Forensics members, while also setting her sights on applying for a Fulbright award with OSD’s invaluable assistance. Her advice to fellow students emphasizes the importance of seizing opportunities, pushing beyond comfort zones, and leveraging resources like OSD to unlock their full potential.

In essence, Cecilia’s journey embodies resilience, adaptability, and a steadfast commitment to growth and community impact, reflecting the transformative power of embracing new experiences and pursuing one’s aspirations.